Easy to Do, Inexpensive; Music Calms Some ICU Patients

By Leslie Harris O’Hanlon

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(Ryan McVay/Getty Images)

The adage stems from the 18th century: music has charms to sooth the savage breast. It’s probably safe to say that someone in an intensive care unit, who needs a machine to help them breathe, is in need of soothing. Usually, doctors and nurses administer drugs, powerful sedatives to help calm patients. Now, a study shows that a different kind of intervention might help: music. The study, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, adds to a growing body of research on how listening to music has a host of health benefits.

Patients in the music group received 38 percent fewer doses of sedatives.
Researchers at Ohio State University looked at ICU patients on mechanical ventilators for respiratory failure. Those who listened to the music of their choice not only had greater reduction in anxiety but also used fewer sedation drugs and lower doses compared to patients who did not have access to music — they received usual ICU care. Mechanical ventilation, or ventilatory support, is when a patient is connected to a machine, called a ventilator, to help him or her breath.

Researchers call this “patient-directed music” because patients could select their own music and put headphones on whenever they wanted.

The “intervention empowered patients to use music to manage their own anxiety whenever they felt they needed the use of music to help them relax or when they desired some quiet time,” said lead author Professor Linda L. Chlan at Ohio State. “Music does not induce adverse side effects, which are sometimes evident with sedative agents administered to these patients.” Continue reading